In an effort to avoid going stir crazy with MLB and every other major sports league shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, I've decided to take a look at the best of the best for each baseball franchise. We've created a 30-day series making an all-time team for each MLB club. We're breaking down one team each day throughout April, continuing today with the Chicago Cubs.
As a (hopefully?) fun twist, I'm making a Baseball Stars team for each. That's right, the old-school Nintendo video game "Baseball Stars," which I still consider to be the best baseball video game ever. It allowed you to create teams and I used to make all-time lineups for prominent MLB franchises. There are the eight position players with four starting pitchers, one reliever and five bench position players on each Baseball Stars squads.
The Cubs are going to be interesting because they have all-time greats at several spots who never won a ring, and this current group is the Golden Era of Cubs baseball (which is sad, but hey, that's the burden we Cubs fans carried for so long). Here's how the lineup shakes out.
Randy Hundley would be a fine pick with some very good years in the '60s. Jody Davis had a decent run in the '80s. If Willson Contreras sticks around long-term, he would deserve mention here, but the Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett gets the nod. In 19 years with the Cubs, he had a 126 OPS+ and won the 1935 MVP.
The all-time franchise leader in WAR is Cap Anson, but he didn't even play into the 1900s, not to mention in an integrated time. I'm avoiding him. I'm also gonna boot Deadball Era Frank Chance. That means it comes down to Mark Grace, Derrek Lee and Anthony Rizzo. Cubs-only stats coming.
Grace: .308/.386/.445, 122 OPS+, 3.5 WAR/650PA
Lee: .298/.378/.524, 129 OPS+, 3.7 WAR/650PA
Rizzo: .277/.376/.496, 132 OPS+, 4.4 WAR/650PA
Rizzo also has the lead in the stat held dearly by Cubs fans: one ring. I'm taking him.
Rogers Hornsby had a short run. Johnny Evers was part of the legendary double-play combo.had a nice run in the '60s. So did Billy Herman in the '30s. Ben Zobrist should always be mentioned due to his impact in 2016, including The Hit.
But we all know the easy and obvious answer. Ryne Sandberg.
Joe Tinker joins Chance and Evers for needing a mention. But my all-time favorite player Javier Baez is absolutely going to be on this team, so bring your anger when I name the bench (quick aside: it's unbelievable to me how many non-Cubs fans hate a guy who is always smiling/laughing and is amazingly fun to watch). I cannot, however, make Javy the starter here.
Mr. Cub. Ernie Banks.
Aramis Ramirez had an excellent run with the Cubs and was probably underrated throughout it. Kris Bryant is moving quickly up the list and he was the MVP in the faux-curse-breaking season. He also had two huge home runs in that World Series.
But, again, we're left with an obvious answer that doesn't come from any championship teams. Ron Santo. Criminally underrated in Hall of Fame voting for years, Santo has the most post-1900 WAR of any Cubs player and carried a career .362 on-base percentage. He had three higher WAR seasons than Bryant's MVP year.
Alfonso Soriano received too much hatred during his stint in Wrigleyville due to his contract, but he's getting mention here for having some good years and also producing one of the greatest quotes you'll ever hear from a rich person. Former Cubs reliever James Russell asked if he had change for a hundred dollar bill. Soriano's reply: "Hundreds are change."
Kyle Schwarber needs a mention due to the World Series, as do Hank Sauer and Riggs Stephenson. Gary Matthews ("The Sarge") was excellent in 1984.
There is also only one pick. Billy Williams.
Since Hack Wilson went nuts in the pre-integration, offensively robust '30s, the Cubs haven't really had any great center fielders for long stretches. And I've got a potential problem brewing in right, so I'm gonna slightly cheat. Sammy Sosa played 119 games in center for the Cubs. The franchise leader in home runs is playing here.
Andre Dawson is only 40th in WAR in franchise history. In six years with the Cubs, he hit .285/.327/.507 (125 OPS+) which is very good but doesn't measure up to Dawson's stature in Cubs' lore. He shouldn't have won MVP in 1987, either.
But words and stats can't describe what Dawson meant to Cubs fans. It especially can't describe what Dawson meant to kids growing up as Cubs fans who looked up to him and wore No. 8 in Little League. I'm speaking from personal experience. Thank you, Hawk. You're the pick.
Before even doing any research whatsoever, I'm taking Jon Lester. He was the single best free agent signing in franchise history, given all the context we know about the situation. He is absolutely nails in the postseason, too.
Off the top, the ace is again easy and from the non-title years! Fergie Jenkins is the top dog.
Now it gets tough.
We have Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, but he pitched in the Deadball Era. In 2015, Jake Arrieta had one of the best seasons in franchise history and the second half was arguably the best ever for any franchise. He was also great in the 2016 World Series and that carries a ton of sentimental weight here. He's third in franchise history in ERA+ behind Brown and John Clarkson from the 1800s. Rick Reuschel had a 3.50 ERA, 113 ERA+ and once finished third in Cy Young voting in his 12 years with the Cubs. Pete Alexander was a stud pre-integration, posting a 131 ERA+. He's sixth in WAR among Cubs pitchers all-time. Did you know Carlos Zambrano is ninth? The top 10 is mostly pre-integration guys, too. Kyle Hendricks is ninth in ERA+.
I didn't even mention Greg Maddux! His first two years and second stint with the Cubs actually mean Maddux's numbers in parts of 10 seasons with the Cubs don't really pop. He was 133-112 with a 3.61 ERA (112 ERA+).
I have to mention Kerry Wood, too.
I only have two spots left. Man, this is tough. I think I have to take Three Finger Brown and then I'm going Arrieta. The toughest omission was Wood, though Hendricks and Zambrano are really weighing on me, too. Reuschel was more compiling than dominating in his time and I favor recent guys, generally.
Allow me a second to rant about Pedro Strop. Strop was one of the Cubs' most valuable relievers through the best run the franchise has ever seen. He posted a 2.61 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 296 1/3 innings from 2014-18. The team's demise in 2018 probably came due to his hamstring injury. He is arguably the third-best reliever in Cubs history. He deserves praise, not scorn.
The top two are easy and obvious, however. It's Hall of Famers Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter (apologies to guys like Randy Myers, Rod Beck and the now-underrated Carlos Marmol).
Smith is the franchise leader in saves but Sutter was more dominant, rate-wise.
Smith: 2.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.8 WAR/162
Sutter: 2.39 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 4.2 WAR/162
You know what, though? Smith is overwhelmingly more associated with the Cubs than any other team while Sutter is equally if not moreso associated with the Cardinals. We're taking Lee Smith.
Baseball Stars uses six characters for each name. What follows is the Baseball Stars lineup.
- Santo, 3B
- Billy, LF
- Ernie, SS
- Sammy, CF
- Rizzo, 1B
- Andre, RF
- Gabby, C
- Ryno, 2B
SP: Fergie, Three, Jon, Jake
Bench: I'm going (Mark) Grace, Javy (Baez), Kris (Bryant), Aramis (Ramirez) and Hack (Wilson). There are so many worthy choices, but I'm taking the big-time slugger, my 2016 guys and two other personal favorites. It's the beauty of making our own teams. You can post yours on Twitter to me at @MattSnyderCBS. No need to argue, just make your own.